“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” — Joseph Smith
If there were any single, brief quote I could share that explains Mormonism, that is, the teachings of the LDS Church, I believe this would be it.
If our existence has any purpose at all, then logically it must be happiness, because if you’re happy then nothing else matters. Therefore all other things are secondary to this one great objective. All other things lead to happiness. Why do we go to church meetings? To learn about the gospel and renew our covenants with God. What do we learn about? Christ? Why do we learn about Christ? To understand his mission. What was his mission? The resurrection and atonement. What is the purpose of Christ’s resurrection? For Christ to live again, and for all of us to live again, never to die again. But what’s the point of that? So that we can serve God. But what’s the point of that? And so forth…if you keep following this or any other train of thought, you end up with happiness.
What if these things did not result in happiness? Then who would follow such a path? Who would purposely want to be miserable? Well, there is one, and his followers, who did desire such a thing. But I don’t think they’re happy about it now (pun intended).
As I raise my children I try to tie everything about the gospel back to being happy. Why do we read the scriptures? Because they teach us how to be happy. Why do we go to church? Because we learn how to be happy there, and make covenants with God that lead to our happiness. Why are we nice to people? Because making others happy makes us happy.
But what is happiness? It’s somewhat hard to define. It’s a bit like telling someone who has never tasted salt what salt tastes like. It’s not just having fun or having a good time, although those things can contribute to and enhance happiness. It’s the opposite of being miserable. It’s something you might feel when you achieve something you’ve worked hard for, or when you’re with people you care about and enjoy spending time with, or when you help another person just because it’s the right thing to do. When you’re happy you want to smile. Sometimes when you’re happy you cry. And yet what is happiness? It’s still hard to define. But most people know it when they feel it.
And yet there are some that confuse other things for happiness. Some take joy in seeing others suffer, or in getting revenge. Some seem to enjoy annoying others, or taking pleasure in winning an argument just because they were able to prove someone else wrong. Some think they’re happy when they’re on heroin or crack, or drunk out of their minds. These things aren’t true happiness, even though there might be some emotions similar to those we feel when we do feel true happiness.
True happiness is permanent. Just as nothing else matters if we’re happy, nothing matters unless it’s permanent. If I told you “Do such and such, and you’ll be 100% happy for the next 10 years, but then as a result of those actions you’ll be 100% miserable for the 10 years after that.” you’d probably decline doing such and such, because you’d rather find something to do that will lead not just to happiness for a while, but to happiness forever. The ultimate tragedy would be for someone to do those things that bring a measure of happiness during this brief life of perhaps 100 years max, in exchange for utter misery for the rest of eternity.
This is the challenge. Since some things can make us happy temporarily, even “truly happy” temporarily, but not permanently, and since some of those things that make us “truly happy” in the short-term can be the very things that make us miserable in the long-term, it is not enough for one to say “I tried this out, and it’s making me happy, so I’m going to keep on doing it.” This is not a very logical way of thinking unless one has a knowledge that their actions will lead to permanent happiness. But how can one know whether their actions now will lead to happiness 50 years from now, or more importantly, in the next life and for the rest of time?
The only way to know is to get information from an external source, a source that has absolute knowledge of what leads to true happiness, that is, the kind of happiness that is permanent. Such a source would have to know everything, because if that source did not know everything, there might be some bit of knowledge the ignorance of which would mess everything else up. That source would also have to be all powerful, because in order for us to be happy forever there would have to be a way for us to live forever, in a state of perfection, and that would require some power outside ourselves to assist us in getting to such a state, or at least it seems reasonable to assume we do not have the power within ourselves to do this. If that source were not all powerful, then we could not entirely rely on their ability to raise us to that state, because there might be some other being in the universe with greater power who could come along and frustrate the plans of the being helping us. Of course I believe this source or being is God.
Since the God I believe in is all knowing and all powerful, and because he loves me, he wants me to be happy. He can share that knowledge with me that will help me to achieve true, permanent happiness, and he has the power to enable me to achieve such a state of being. Because there is nothing he doesn’t know, nor any power he doesn’t have, I can rely with 100% confidence on him without any fear that there is something he doesn’t know or something he can’t do that will ruin everything for me.
Now, if God knows everything, and can do anything, and he wants us all to be happy, then dang it, why doesn’t he just come out and tell us in no uncertain terms what to do?! Why are there so many religions and churches? Why do people argue about what the Bible means? And if God wants us to be happy then why are there thieves, drunk drivers, murderers, rapists, child molesters, and lawyers? Why do we have to bother with this faith stuff, rather than just having knowledge of what to do? In fact, why do we have to live this life at all? If God wants us to live a life of eternal bliss then why doesn’t he just send us straight there instead of down here to suffer?
Logically if God is all powerful, and if God is all knowing, and if God loves us, then the only conclusion we can reach with regards to the existence of this life, the suffering possible in it, and the lack of clear information available, is that were it not for these things we would of necessity have to deal with something worse. However bad this life can be, it must be better than the alternative.
What is that alternative, or what are they if there is more than one? Why faith rather than knowledge? How can God love us and let us suffer at the same time? Are there any answers to these questions? Sure. There are answers to all these questions and more, and correct answers are found in many religions, systems of belief, and brains of people all over the world. The LDS Church does not have a monopoly on this information, although I would posit it has a greater store of it than any other organization. What is more important is that the LDS Church is the only organization in which can be found the power of God, that power that lifts people from a state of imperfection to a state of perfection. Just as tributaries, streams, and rivers eventually empty into the ocean, all paths of truth eventually lead to the LDS Church, because it is God’s church. It is the only one organized by him to assist his children in attaining that happiness which is the very purpose of our existence. This doesn’t mean the members of the LDS Church are perfect, nor that its leaders are perfect, nor that the Church itself is perfect, nor that one can become a member of the Church and suddenly everything is bright and rosy (if anything life can get harder once one joins the Church). But just as we can be engaged in activities and behavior that make us happy in the short-term but not in the long-term, we can also engage in activities that bring a certain type or amount of suffering in the short-term, but eternal happiness in the long-term. The most direct route to getting that information from God, and the only route to benefitting from God’s power, is through his church, the LDS Church. Why am I a member of it? Because I know the things I have said here are true, and because I want to be happy, not just now, not just for the next 50 years, but forever.